players make their own fun

Among the many insights in Thomas Henricks’ paper Play as a Pathway of Behavior (pdf) (and, let me tell you, this article is deep, detailed and insight-dense), there was one phrase that struck me as particularly ponder-worthy. So as not to take it too much out of context, here’s where it came from:

The second type of emotion sequence—play—begins with a much less certain, more open-minded orientation that I call curiosity. Lieberman (1977) has described this orientation as playfulness, a creative, inquisitive disposition that encourages some children to turn almost any situation into something that stimulates and amuses them. Unlike Piaget (1962) who viewed play as a repetitious manipulation of objects that builds confidence in personal skills and understandings, most play scholars emphasize that players enter situations just because they are unsure of their abilities to control the elements they find in them. They know that they will be asked to control these elements—by testing, teasing, prodding, and deconstructing—but they are curious about what will happen when they assert themselves in such ways. Because individuals engage voluntarily, those who do not possess a curious disposition are unlikely to seek or enjoy play.

I describe the positive feelings associated with such engagement, once play has begun, as amusement or fun. This dialectical pattern, filled with moments of assertion and adjustment, reaches a culmination in exhilaration, the sense of being pleasurably spent or even laughed-out. Looking back, the individual is gratified, not just because he is pleased with his own efforts—though this is central to the experience—but also because he is pleased by the challenges provided by the others. Critically—and in contradistinction to the patterns I discuss next—players make their own fun. That is, they impose their own desires on the world and, in effect, ask it to do their bidding. Players are gratified when otherness gives them a good game or otherwise meets their desires for appropriate challenge.

“players make their own fun”

Ah, I say, and again, ah.

This is what I glean (or choose to glean):

Normally, the world is fun enough, so it seems to me. But when it stops seeming that way (and we’re talking “seeming”), then, since we can’t really make the world fun, we have to make our own, fun. And what’s really the most valuable about this is realizing that, yes, it is within our purview. It is what we can do. It is what we do.

It’s like kids playing in the rubble during the World War II (and in so many part-world wars since), or shortly after a disaster of some other ilk. It’s too hard to see the fun. So they make their own.


  1. Natalie Kinsey on April 5, 2012 at 11:29 am

    Don’t you love it when experts talk, expertly, about what you do and have been doing rather unexpertly, your whole, happy life? I do. It’s part of what makes my experience here on the site, so durn satisfying.
    I like this distinction about making fun. I carry an Adventure bag with me where I go, packed with small games, playing cards, crayons, bubbles, sea glass, joke book, etc. for when I encounter a space that isn’t conscious of or willing to grow fun, like dinners with in-laws or doctor visits. Or! Courtrooms! Actually one of my favorite places to open playgrounds. I find that once I locate myself in a playground through a game of cards, or co-savoring with someone, or a scavenger hunt that I begin to draw in players, that fun begets fun. It’s almost biblical.

    • Bernie DeKoven on April 5, 2012 at 11:40 am

      Yes and yes. Affirming is what it is, even when it’s validating what you already know is so deeply, truly, unshakably valid.

      Adventure bag! What a great thing to be carrying. We need those little props. They set the stage, making it easier for us to get into the act together.

      Almost biblical. Trans-testament.

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